Chargers, Mobilitie pump up the DAS at StubHub Center

While the new LA stadium is being built, the soccer-specific StubHub Center is the home to the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers. Credit all photos: Terry Sweeney, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

Mention StubHub Center to your average sports fan in southern California and they’ll likely assume you’re talking about soccer’s LA Galaxy or the Los Angeles Chargers, the recently relocated NFL franchise subletting space while its permanent stadium gets built.

But StubHub Center, built on the campus of California State University/Dominguez Hills, also includes a velodrome, an 8,000-seat tennis stadium (with several adjacent courts), and an outdoor track and field facility. Throw in the far-flung parking lots and it adds up to 125 acres that all need wireless connectivity.

With such wide spaces to cover, StubHub management opted not to spend on fan-facing Wi-Fi and instead focused on distributed antenna system (DAS) technology to keep fans and tailgaters connected. Katie Pandolfo, StubHub’s general manager, looked to the major cellular carriers to invest in and support the connectivity needs of Galaxy and Chargers fans, and other eventgoers at the open-air StubHub.

Carriers help bear the cost of connectivity

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of Wi-Fi at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, a sneak peek at Milwaukee’s new Fiserv Forum, and a profile of the new Wi-Fi network being added to Wrigley Field! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

Katie Pandolfo, StubHub’s general manager

“With our DAS-only approach, the investment is 100 percent on the carriers and doesn’t cost us anything,” Pandolfo told Mobile Sports Report. While they got a few complaints about no public Wi-Fi during events in 2017, when the 29-zone DAS system was activated, fans quickly acclimated and now use bandwidth from Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon on the shared network. AT&T isn’t part of the DAS system, but has operated a macro site at StubHub for years, according to Pandolfo.

Mobilitie helped build StubHub’s DAS system and offered its engineering expertise; the turnkey provider also manages the system. The DAS-only approach is common in southern California; in addition to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the Honda Center in Anaheim and Viejas Arena (under construction) at San Diego State University are also DAS-only venues with no fan-facing Wi-Fi.

StubHub Center, located in Carson, Calif., is 17 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, and upwind from a nearby Goodyear blimp mooring station; gusty coastal winds apparently make this a good training ground for new blimp pilots. The 27,000-seat StubHub originally opened in 2003 as Home Depot Center; the new sponsor came onboard in 2013. Anschutz Entertainment Group owns and operates StubHub Center.

StubHub will handle several events when Los Angeles hosts the Summer Olympics in 2028, including bicycle track racing, field hockey, pentathlon, rugby and tennis. Pandolfo expects firmer plans for the venue’s technology needs to emerge sometime in the next couple years. Technology – especially wireless technology – will change a lot in that time, she noted.

As the second soccer-specific stadium built in the U.S., Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy is the venue’s premier tenant. But in 2017 when the National Football League’s Chargers moved from San Diego to Los Angeles, the facility underwent some major upgrades. Additions include 1,000 new tip-up seats replacing bleachers on the east side of the stadium; another 330 bleacher seats were added in StubHub’s southeast corner. Luxury suites and the press box were renovated along with two new radio booths; they also added a security office for police and NFL officials, and camera booths at the two 20-yard lines and at the 50-yard line. Locker rooms were enlarged as was the press conference room.

DAS antennas look down from atop a wall

And tempting as it may be to lump all fans of any sport into a single heap, Pandolfo said Galaxy fans and Chargers fans behave very differently at StubHub Center. Chargers fans like to get up and walk around, visit concessions and take advantage of the venue’s amenities during the game. Not so for Galaxy fans, who tend to stay seated and don’t want to miss any of the action, she explained.

California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control also just changed its rules and will now allow beer sales up and down the aisles of stadiums like StubHub Center. Beer hawking, she noted, didn’t used to be digital and required fans to pay cash. “Now it’s a quicker transaction that improves the fan experience,” using mobile pay systems or credit cards, Pandolfo said.

DAS upgrades mean faster speeds

In the meantime, Mobilitie continues to optimize StubHub’s DAS system; based on bandwidth speed tests conducted by Mobile Sports Report, things are moving in the right direction. MSR tested Verizon DAS connectivity right after the system was installed in August 2017, and a year later during a Chargers’ pre-season game against New Orleans. In 2017, Verizon’s DAS struggled in single-digit Mbps uploads and downloads; quite often, the throughput was even less.

What a difference a year makes. Mobilitie engineers’ fine-tuning has paid off; August 2018 tests show dramatic improvement, with the highest throughputs near the stadium’s northwest concessions area — 111.39 Mbps/12.15 Mbps (download/upload). A year previous, things were a lot more sluggish with 0.95 Mbps/0.04 Mbps speeds recorded in the same area.

Overhangs provide good places for equipment mounts

DAS performance has also improved just inside the gates past the ticket scanners at the bottom of the stairs; in 2017, we clocked only 1.87 Mbps/13.42 Mbps, but more recently throughput had jumped to 87.08 Mbps/21.42 Mbps. The concession area on the east side of the stadium checked in most recently at 76.55 Mbps/6.7 Mbps, another sizeable increase from last year when Verizon DAS throughput was a pokey 0.4 Mbps/0.06 Mbps.

Speeds inside the stadium have also improved year-over-year. Section 230 in the northeast corner of StubHub measured 2.83 Mbps/1.96 Mbps a year ago, but were up to 13.48 Mbps/8.71 Mbps in August 2018. Similarly, the sunny northern end of the stadium above the end zone delivered 0.21 Mbps/0.27 Mbps a year ago, but jumped to a more acceptable 16.44 Mbps/18.27 Mbps. The east side of the stadium is also more robust; a year ago, bandwidth tests yielded 3.1 Mbps/0.01 Mbps, but were up to 8.97 Mbps/1.74 Mbps.

Improvements to the DAS network performance can only help improve the fan experience at StubHub Center. Pandolfo wants fans to be able to do everything faster: Get parked faster, enter the stadium, and take advantage of all the food, drink and merchandise options. “We look at the whole package and then at the network we have to provide to make that happen,” she said. “We’re looking at it from the fan experience but also how to optimize revenue for the building.” It’s the right formula for sporting venues compelled to balance technology requirements against dollars and cents.

LAFC scores technology hat trick at Banc of California Stadium

Banc of California Stadium, the new home of the Los Angeles Football Club. Credit all photos: Terry Sweeney, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

There’s an elegance to the advancing striker – the foot work, feints, arc of the kick – as they target the opponent’s goal. For the Los Angeles Football Club, that elegance gets reflected back in its newly christened home field, Banc of California Stadium, with its graceful lines and minimalist design, plus visibility and a connection to the field rivaling venues half its size.

LAFC, one of Major League Soccer’s newest expansion teams, had a particular sort of experience in mind for fans inside the venue, with its capacity of 22,000. The steeply pitched stands create an intimate sporting and entertainment space. Multiple clubs, suites and concession areas are there to satisfy food and beverage desires. Team owners were equally adamant about having top-notch technology, according to Christian Lau, vice president of information technology for LAFC, especially where wireless networking was concerned. The requirement was for “unprecedented coverage,” he added. “We wanted to avoid doing any retrofitting for at least five years.”

Opened in April, LAFC’s gleaming new stadium sits adjacent to the Los Angeles Coliseum (home to USC football, and to the NFL’s Rams, at least for now), replacing what used to be the Los Angeles Sports Arena. That structure was demolished in early 2016 and LAFC’s lengthy list of owners (Peter Guber, Magic Johnson, Will Ferrell and Mia Hamm, to name just a few of the sports and entertainment luminaries with a stake in the team) set the timer for April 29, 2018, LAFC’s first home game for its inaugural season.

Construction crews worked relentlessly to meet the deadline; the venue was ready one month early, thanks to good planning and construction crews putting in 16-hour days to be ready for BofC Stadium’s debut. On April 29, the gates opened and a new era had begun with the ‘hat trick’ of a fiber backbone, solid wireless coverage and an advanced app strategy.

The optics of LAFC networking

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of a new MatSing ball DAS deployment at Amalie Arena, a new under-seat DAS deployment for the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park, and a look at the new DAS at Wrigley Field! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

No doubt where you are at. Welcome to LA… FC.

The foundation for LAFC’s networking is a gigabit passive optical network (GPON) backbone with two chassis, plus fiber links from two service providers, AT&T and Crown Castle. The stadium backbone is 10-Gbps fiber with 100-Gbps dark fiber in place, Lau explained. LAFC is one of just a few sporting venues using GPON, along with Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and Texas A&M’s Kyle Field in College Station. Perhaps not coincidentally, the technology contractor for all three projects was IBM.

Wi-Fi was an obvious requirement for BofC Stadium; back-of-the-house networks support ticketing processes at the gates, along with POS applications and LAFC administrative needs. Fan-facing Wi-Fi (“LAFC Guest”) blankets the venue with 487 access points; Lau’s leaving open the door to add more APs as requirements dictate. About 60 percent of the existing APs are installed under seats in the stands. Ruckus Networks is the Wi-Fi AP vendor and helped with system engineering and tuning.

While engineered for 70,000 users, the venue’s Wi-Fi has been averaging about 8,700 simultaneous users, according to Lau. The LAFC Guest network has no landing page since at some venues, loading times for landing pages can be long, leading to frustrated users abandoning the Wi-Fi. Users have also come to consider Wi-Fi a de facto amenity, so LAFC wanted to ensure its guest Wi-Fi network was easily and quickly accessible, Lau said.

The DAS details

On the cellular side, LAFC called on wireless services and engineering firm Mobilitie to pull together the distributed antenna system (DAS) for BofC Stadium. The venue’s DAS network consists of 25 zones powered by Ericsson gear; there are 160 antennas and over 7 miles of cabling to handle nearly 1.5 million square feet of DAS coverage.

Wireless gear covers the concessions areas

All four of the major wireless carriers — AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint – have signed up for BofC’s DAS network. Verizon was on air for the first game; Sprint was scheduled to fully integrate into the DAS network by the end of June, according to Stephanie Gray, senior director, wireless coverage solutions for Mobilitie.

LAFC was looking something transformative in its use of technology that would set BofC stadium apart from other stadiums, Gray told Mobile Sports Report. LAFC wanted seamless wireless especially in transition zones, part of strict requirements for the DAS network.

“They wanted a high percentage of coverage throughout the venue, particularly where people are using SeatGeek and wireless/paperless ticketing at the gates,” she explained. “We needed optimum coverage that could handle the stadium under load.”

Mobilitie brought engineering know-how to deal with the inevitable onsite quirks unique to every venue. In the case of BofC Stadium, the overall design aesthetic is modern and slick. The ceiling materials in many parts of the stadium – clubs, suites and some concession areas — are sheathed in metal, which presents an RF propagation challenge for RF, reducing signal strength.

On-field DAS coverage was also challenging, according to Jamie Witherspoon, director, technical solutions, for Mobilitie. Antennas had to be mounted on stadium trusses before the trusses were craned into place, an unusual technical cart-before-the-horse process. The reason? Cherry-picker equipment couldn’t be on the field or its freshly laid sod to adjust DAS antennas. In addition, Witherspoon reported lots of negotiations with the architecture firm, Gensler, to ensure the DAS antennas were as unobtrusive as possible and to preserve the stadium’s design aesthetic.

“With DAS, we’re more accustomed to building out a pre-existing venue, coming in after the fact,” Witherspoon explained. “This was brand new construction, so we had to work around multiple construction teams.”

Bandwidth snapshots

Mobile Sports Report put the fan-facing Wi-Fi and DAS to the test at BofC Stadium’s opening day, a match between LAFC and the Seattle Sounders. We sampled upload and download speeds around the stadium using the Speedtest app to measure performance. All our tests are only from Verizon’s services inside the venue.

Underseat mounts for Wi-Fi

In general, the BofC wireless services appear well engineered and cover the stadium’s common areas effectively. As to be expected, bandwidth performance was higher in the areas around the suites and clubs, where Wi-Fi downloads clocked in anywhere from 12.38 Mbps in the Sunset Loge on the west side of the stadium to 15.26 Mbps in the Founder’s Club. Wi-Fi upload speeds came in at 63.92 Mbps and 71.94 Mbps, respectively, the highest speeds measured in our tests at BofC Stadium.

Verizon’s DAS wasn’t as fast as the guest Wi-Fi. Highest DAS download speed at the south concessions was 37.67 Mbps; Section 123 on the southern side of the bowl came in at 35.43 Mbps. Highest upload speed for DAS service was 21.42 Mbps in the southeast concession area, followed by 20.92 Mbps around the southwest concessions.

A couple areas were less robust from a wireless bandwidth perspective. The DAS performance in the concession area outside the Figueroa Club on the east side of the stadium measured 9.4 Mbps download/10.97 Mbps upload; guest Wi-Fi in the west concessions area came in at 8.58 Mbps/1.93 Mbps, while Wi-Fi in the south concession wasn’t much better at 8.27 Mbps/1.98 Mbps. But generally, the guest Wi-Fi outperformed Verizon’s DAS and most Wi-Fi download/upload speeds were in the double-digits of megabits per second.

Prepping the LAFC app

LAFC worked with mobile integrator Venuetize to build out the team’s app, using the MLS team app template as its foundation. As a new team and one that started its season with a succession of away games, there was no reason to have stadium-based features in the app’s first iteration, said Lou Fontana, vice president of project management for Venuetize. The earliest iteration of the LAFC app concentrated more on content pieces, followed by the BofC Stadium-specific features.

LAFC’s app features both mobile ticketing and a sophisticated digital wallet for making onsite purchases for food or team merchandise. LAFC’s Lau volunteered that the organization is looking to have totally digital ticketing by 2019 – no paper, no PDFs to print out. Venuetize did some backend integration with payment processing partner Vantive; the ticketing part of the app works with ticket marketplace and aggregator SeatGeek.

Wi-Fi APs point down from the rafters

The LAFC app also uses and artificial intelligence-powered chatbot named Otto to help with stadium info, developed by Satis.fy. A future iteration of Otto will take it out of the Web’s view and make it a native view, incorporating elastic search. “That will enable fans to ask about players and the team schedule, and will replace search function in the app,” Fontana said, adding the upgrade could come sometime this summer.

The current version of the app has video, served up from MLS’s site. Immediate replay is something Venuetize will work on with LAFC. “When is the video content source available? That’s an issue,” Fontana said, adding that scoring plays make it out of the MLS server within about 25 minutes. While Venuetize could take that content and make it native, it’s not a top priority for the team at the moment.

BofC Stadium has installed Bluetooth beacon technology. “We haven’t gone through process of dialing in beacons, but wayfinding and navigation are on the list” for the LAFC app, Fontana said.

The integrator is also looking at GameChanger MVP, an augmented reality game developer, for a scoreboard game to fold in. “AR gaming will be the next interesting thing” for sports apps generally, according to Fontana.

Connect the DAS: Enhanced cellular finally arrives at Wrigley Field

Cubs VP of IT Andrew McIntyre looks up at some new DAS antenna placements in the main level concourse. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

When it comes to sports fans and their beloved stadiums, change is sometimes hard to take, especially at historic venues like the Chicago Cubs’ beloved Wrigley Field.

The last ballpark in the major leagues to get lights (in 1988), fans of the iconic Wrigley with its ivy-covered outfield walls put up some fierce resistance to some of the latest changes brought to the ballpark by the team’s latest owners, the Ricketts family, ove the past few years. An expansion of the bleacher seats, some new video boards behind the stands in the outfield and construction of a hotel and office building adjacent to the stadium all had their naysayers, some of whom would still prefer the old to anything new.

But this season, Wrigley is finally unveiling a part of its renovation that everyone can get behind — better cellular connectivity inside the park thanks to a new neutral-host distributed antenna system (DAS) built by DAS Group Professionals (DGP) for the Cubs. Delayed a couple years from its originally planned deployment due to the Cubs’ World Series title run in 2016, the new system has contracts with all four of the major U.S. wireless carriers, and should help fans share more memories from the Friendly Confines in the seasons to come.

Success on the field makes waiting OK

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of a new MatSing ball DAS deployment at Amalie Arena, a new under-seat DAS deployment for the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park, and a look at the networks inside the new Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

First announced in 2015, the plan to bring the new DAS as well as a new Wi-Fi network to Wrigley was pushed back until this season, mainly because of the Cubs’ new-found success on the field. In addition to the World Series title in 2016 — as everyone knows, the Cubs’ first in 108 years — the Cubs also went deep into the postseason in both 2015 and 2017, reaching the NLCS in both those years. As the extended seasons pushed back all kinds of renovation construction schedules, the arrival of the new connectivity options was pushed back a season longer than expected — a delay that was felt but perhaps not minded all too much by the celebrating Cubs fans.

DAS antennas visible near tops of stanchions in lower seating bowl

Since deployment of the DAS was (mostly) fairly straightforward — the DGP deployment uses entirely overhead and side-structure antenna placements, thanks to Wrigley’s multiple overhangs — it was finished in time for opening day. The Wi-Fi network, however, will be rolled out as the season progresses, mainly due to the need to place APs under seats in the lower seating sections.

Much of the engineering to get both systems inside the stadium faced more than the regular share of stadium conflicts, as this past offseason saw the Cubs pull out almost all the lower-bowl seats and dig 60 feet down into the dirt to clear room for some under-seat club areas, one of which is already open. Even though the DAS network wasn’t powered up until about a week before the season’s first pitch, deadlines were met and the new celluar system was ready for opening day.

“We definitely put scheduling and timing to the test, but we got it done,” said Andrew McIntyre, vice president of technology for the Chicago Cubs. “By the All-Star break, we should have both systems online,” McIntyre said.

The DAS system deployed by DGP uses JMA equipment, just like DGP’s other big-stadium DAS deployments at the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium and the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center. Steve Dutto, president of DGP, acknowledged the challenge of the Wrigley buildout, including one instance where DGP technicians needed to set up scaffolding to mount antennas but couldn’t because instead of a concrete floor there was a 60-foot hole in the ground.

“We worked around all that and got it done,” said Dutto.

New club spaces get new flat antennas

Mobile Sports Report traveled to Chicago for a mid-April visit, hoping to get some sense of the new network’s performance on a full-stadium game day. Instead, we got a lonely and chilly tour when sub-freezing temperatures caused that day’s game to be canceled. One positive was that with empty stands, it was easier to get around and see all the DAS antenna placements.

New flat-panel DAS antenna blends nicely in club space.

The first part of our tour was a trip underground to the new 1914 Club (for the year Wrigley opened) that sits directly under the seats right behind home plate. With the feel of sports bar-meets-speakeasy, the classy premium-seat space has great connectivity even while underground, thanks in part to a new flat-panel disc-shaped omnidirectional DAS antenna from Laird Technologies that DGP used in both indoor and outdoor placements.

With nobody in the club, we got an off-the-scale speedtest of 139 Mbps down and 46.7 Mbps up, proof on one level that the system is ready to go. Since it was freezing outside (did we mention it was cold?) MSR didn’t stop to take our gloves off to get many more tests, but we did get marks in the high 30 to high 40 Mbps range pretty much anywhere we did stop, including the upper decks and the bleachers. Even out in the middle of the adjacent plaza (where the Cubs’ networks are designed to cover) we got a DAS speed mark of 38.2 Mbps / 44.0 Mbps.

“The new DAS is much more higher performance grade than in the past,” McIntyre said.

The premium-seating club spaces, which were previously nonexistent at Wrigley, will expand next year when the Cubs finish out two more underground spaces, along each base line. According to McIntyre fans in those clubs will be able to watch players using the underground batting tunnels to tune their swings mid-game.

The last phase of the current Wrigley renovations will also see the addition of some more open gathering and club areas on the upper deck level, including party porches on the outside of the stadium walls overlooking the plaza (now called Gallagher Way under a sponsor-naming deal with the Illinois-based insurance brokerage). Gallagher Way, which hosted an outdoor ice rink in the winter, is set to hold concerts and other gatherings like movie nights this summer.

Old overhangs perfect for new technology

Sometimes in stadium wireless retrofits, you get lucky and the old stuff blends pretty well with the new. Take Wrigley Field’s classic metal-and-wood overhangs, which provide shade and rain cover for fans on the lower back and upper decks. According to DGP vice president of engineering Derek Cotton, getting DAS antennas in the right spots for a good signal there was half easy, half hard.

On the top levels, DGP was able to install the JMA gear out where it could offer the best connection — at the edge of the roofs, pointing backward toward the stands. With aesthetics a top concern at Wrigley, the roofs were a perfect place to “hide” some of the 420 total antennas in the deployment.

Green-painted DAS antennas point toward stands from back of bleachers club area

But on the lower-level roof, DGP and the Cubs had a concession to make that will be fixed during the upcoming offseason. Because of the deep pits dug into the box seat and field level, Cotton said DGP couldn’t get a scaffolding set to reach the outer parts of the lower roof — so instead DGP put those antennas in toward the backs of the roofs, and will move them out to the edges this winter. Some other antennas installed this year will have to be taken out and replaced while the rooftop party decks get built; and by next year the Cubs hope to have all the marooned gear from an AT&T Wi-Fi deployment from 2012 removed — but if you have sharp eyes this summer you can spot some of the old “Pringles can” Wi-Fi radios still nestled up in the rafters.

‘Creativity’ needed for bleachers

If DAS deployment in the main seats at Wrigley was fairly straightforward, for the venue’s unique and famous bleacher seating DGP’s Cotton said “some creativity was needed” to find places to mount antennas.

With no overhead structure and only the historic, manually operated scoreboard in the back, Wrigley’s bleacher seating now has DAS coverage from a wide array of antenna placements that took use of just about every kind of mounting area available. Some gear hangs from the back of a sponsor’s sign in left field; other antennas are tucked underneath the bottom of the scoreboard, pointing out from a small club area there; and still others are concealed in the tall grass of the planters that go up the sides of the centerfield seating section, just next to the poles that carry the Cubs’ World Championship flags from 1907, 1908, and most recently, 2016.

Other more normal antenna placements are found around the back side of the bleachers, where recent renovations added a concessions area and more stairways.

DGP’s Derek Cotton inside the Wrigley head end room

Moving outside the park to the plaza, artistic concealment continues with antennas hidden on light poles that surround the triangular plot of lawn. According to McIntyre, the club’s wireless coverage extends across Clark Street to the new Hotel Zachary, named for Wrigley Field’s original architect, Zachary Taylor Davis.

The hotel, which has retail shops on the street level — including a McDonald’s franchise that replaces a standalone McDonald’s that used to sit in the parking lot where the plaza now stands — has DAS coverage on all floors, with Wi-Fi planned for public spaces on the first floor and second floor, where the main lobby and lobby bar reside. In the lobby bar comfortable couches provide a great place to look over the plaza and at Wrigley; and in fact the Extreme Networks Wi-Fi gear visible on the ceilings is already operative there, though purposely limited in throughput to 7.5 Mbps up and down for now.

Most of all the wiring for the new networks comes together in a small brick headend building about a block north on Clark, behind the Wrigleyville hot dog stand. Unless you knew what was inside, you’d be hard pressed to guess why there are huge strands of red, white and blue cabling coming through one wall. Just before the start of the season, the Cubs announced a deal with Comcast Business that will see a “XfinityWiFi@Wrigley” label on the Wrigley Wi-Fi SSID. According to McIntyre Comcast will bring in twin 10-Gbps pipes to power the Wrigley Wi-Fi network.

When the Wi-Fi network comes online later this season, there will be even less of a reason to believe there will be any more grumbling about connectivity at the Friendly Confines. The new era starts with the DAS deployed by DGP, which was picked by McIntyre and the Cubs several years ago, after hearing of DGP’s deployments at Levi’s Stadium and over face-to-face meetings at the SEAT Conference.

And while Cubs fans didn’t have to wait for new wireless as long as they did for a world championship, they can now start enjoying the ability to connect to the world outside the ivy.

“When it’s fully done our fans will have a real ability to share, in a modern way, from one of the most iconic and historic venues,” McIntyre said. “It’s a whole new world.”

This look at the main seating shows the multiple overhangs where DAS antennas were mounted

This look at the Wrigley Field bleachers shows the lack of any structures to hang antennas from

If you get hungry while at the Wrigley Field head end, this fine dining establishment is just outside the door

“How often does the train come by?” “So often you don’t notice.”

Massive MIMO is Sprint’s path to 5G, says CTO Saw

Dr. John Saw, CTO of Sprint, at an IEEE keynote speech. Credit all photos: Sprint

Sprint chief technical officer John Saw has seen the future of cellular wireless, and according to him it was at a sports event.

“I was at the [Winter] Olympics where KT [Korea Telecom] and Intel set up the first 5G network,” said Saw in a recent phone interview. “Stadiums will be a good showplace for the capabilities of 5G. It’s pretty impressive what you can do with 5G that you can’t do today.”

Saw, who was CTO at WiMAX play Clearwire before that company became part of Sprint, will be the first to admit that the network built for the PyeongChang Olympics wasn’t “true” 5G, but said it was a good precursor. He also added that it wasn’t a cost-conscious deployment, something MSR had heard from other sources who said Intel and KT didn’t hold back when it came to spending.

“They spent a lot of money [on the network],” Saw said.

But some of the services the Olympic network was able to support included local viewing of replays using Intel’s True View technology, which gives fans the ability to watch a play or action from a 360-degree angle. While Intel has had limited deployments of the technology at some U.S. sporting events, for the Olympics Saw said they used hundreds of cameras linked over millimeter wave frequencies, which can offer very low latency.

“They needed [to have the images] in real time,” Saw said, and built the millimeter wave network to do just that. While the network “wasn’t fully compliant to the subsequent 5G standards, a lot of what they built is the forerunner to 5G,” Saw said. “It was a pretty cool showcase, and will certainly find a home in stadiums.”

No Millimeter Wave spectrum for Sprint

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of a new MatSing ball DAS deployment at Amalie Arena, a new DAS for the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, and a look at the networks inside the new Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

Millimeter wave networks, however, won’t be part of Sprint’s early push toward 5G, said Saw. Instead, he said Sprint will concentrate on deploying “Massive MIMO” networks in its rich space of spectrum at the 2.5 GHz frequency, where Sprint controls upwards of 150 MHz of spectrum in most major U.S. metro markets.

Without trying too hard here to explain exactly how Massive MIMO works — think splitting up transmissions between mulitple antennas then using lots of compute power to bring the data back together — the key here is Sprint’s spectrum holdings, which Saw said are still only about half used.

“When we launched LTE [on the 2.5 Ghz spectrum] we used less than half the spectrum we had,” Saw said. “With 5G, we will use all the spectrum we have in market. We’ll be one of very few carriers who launch 5G in the same [spectrum] footprint [as LTE].”

With the ability to carry “four to 10 times the capacity of regular LTE,” Saw sees Massive MIMO 5G as something perfect for large public venues like stadiums and shopping malls.

Dr. John Saw

“When you have sports events with 50,000 people in the stadium, you need this kind of capacity,” Saw said. “Were building out the footprint for [5G] this year, and we’ll launch next year.”

Saw said that part of the infrastructure support for 5G networks will be different as well.

“It’s more than just speed, or more capacity. It’s more than tonnage,” Saw said. “We’ll have a different way of deploying the new network, with a more distributed core, one [with more resources] out to the edge of the network.”

Why is such equipment redistribution necessary? According to Saw, a network with more components at the edge can help with content delivery for the new bandwidth-hungry apps like virtual-reality replays.

“Say you want VR at a hockey game, where you want to give real time [replay] viewing to customers, with different camera angles,” Saw said. “You literally have to have the 5G core inside the stadiums, so it can process [the content] without having to go back to the cloud.”

Will DAS trail in the path to 5G?

One type of network Saw doesn’t see leading the way to 5G is the traditional DAS, or distributed antenna system.

“DAS is going to have to migrate to 5G,” Saw said. “It’s not going to lead the pack.”

In fact, Saw said Sprint has been somewhat of a reluctant DAS participant at times, including at the most recent Super Bowls. In the last two of the NFL’s “big game” events, Super Bowl 51 in Houston and Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis, Saw said Sprint used small cell deployments instead of the neutral DAS systems to augment its coverage.

“We had hundreds of small cells, inside and outside [the venues],” Saw said. “We got the same performance, maybe better, for a lot less money.”

Part of the issue for Sprint and DAS, Saw said, is that the carrier usually has to pay more for its unique spectrum bands, especially the 2.5 GHz frequencies which are not used by any of the other major wireless carriers.

“We always think through before we sign up for DAS fees… there’s more than one way to skin a cat,” Saw said. While in many cases there is no alternative except to participate in a neutral-host configuration, Saw said “we do prefer small cells.”

Will CBRS help?

One of the more hyped platforms being pushed this year is use of the CBRS spectrum at the 3.5 GHz range for not just more carrier networks, but even for “private” LTE networks, like for venues or campuses.

“It’s an interesting concept because it opens things up to more than just four operators,” Saw said. But he also called out the need for an online database to make sure CBRS spectrum use doesn’t interfere with systems run by the U.S. Navy, and added that without any definitive FCC action yet, the rules for future CBRS use are still unclear.

“There’s quite a lot of work to be done, and not a lot of spectrum there,” said Saw. While claiming that Sprint is “watching CBRS with interest,” he added that with its 2.5 GHz holdings, Sprint most likely won’t be at the front of any CBRS deployments.

“At the end of the day, CBRS is not 5G,” Saw said.

How will a merger with T-Mobile help?

Since our conversation took place just a day after Sprint and T-Mobile announced their renewed plans to merge, Saw didn’t have a lot of details to share, beyond his opinion that the two companies’ different spectrum holdings would build a more powerful competitor when put together.

“When you put our 2.5 (GHz) with their 600 MHz it gives you a much larger footprint with higer capacity,” Saw said. “There’s tremendous synergy. Both [companies] are enthusiastic about this deal.”

Editor’s note: This post is part of Mobile Sports Report’s new Voices of the Industry feature, in which industry representatives submit articles, commentary or other information to share with the greater stadium technology marketplace. These are NOT paid advertisements, or infomercials. See our explanation of the feature to understand how it works.

State of the Stadium Network, 2018: Smooth sailing right now but rough waters ahead?

Here at Mobile Sports Report we used to have a yearly survey (called “State of the Stadium”) which we used mainly to see if and when wireless networks were being deployed in large sports venues. After just a few years, it quickly became apparent that for almost all the respondents we heard from, the question was no longer “if” networks would be deployed, but just “when.” And for more than most, the “when” was happening already.

Looking back over the past year or so of our stadium profile visits, it’s clear that the still-young market of large-venue wireless connectivity has reached a certain level of maturity, especially when it comes to well-funded deployments of Wi-Fi and cellular distributed antenna system (DAS) networks. Where in the recent past the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium was a groundbreaker with its extensive wireless coverage when it opened in 2014, such networks have now become the standard expectation for new venues like the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center, U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and even in many “Tier 2” stadiums like Colorado State University’s new football stadium.

Similar high-quality networks are also finding their way into older stadiums as those venues get networking for the first time or revamp their initial outlays. Over the past couple years we’ve seen new networks appear in old venues like Notre Dame Stadium, SAP Center in San Jose and more recently, the Alamodome. Other venues that led the initial charge toward wireless networks for fans, like the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium, the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte and Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, all had recent upgrades to their wireless infrastructures as the venues smartly stayed in tune with the ever-increasing demands of fans and their mobile devices. And then there are pioneers like AT&T Park and AT&T Stadium, which have always managed to lead the way in finding new ways to keep their connectivity at state of the art levels.

What really helps point to a certain level of maturity is the different methods and manufacturers who all have figured out their own ways to get things done. Wi-Fi antenna deployments placed under seats, in railing mounts or overhead have all proven themselves in numerous live tests; DAS deployments have shown similar successes in a somewhat corresponding number of techniques and equipment usages; in all, there seems to be well more than one path to a successful wireless infrastructure. But before we start taking networking for granted as a commodity like electricity or plumbing, it’s a good time to remember that unlike those two services, networking doesn’t stand still. As new end-user devices and the apps they run continue to drive growth in demand, the question now is whether current Wi-Fi and DAS networks for venues will be able to keep up, or whether new technology is needed.

The need for more wireless spectrum

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT issue for Spring 2018, which includes a look at Wi-Fi performance during the Final Four, a recap of wireless performance at Super Bowl 52, a profile of new venue construction in Los Angeles and more! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY right now from our site!

In a previous lifetime as a cellular systems analyst, yours truly wrote a long research paper about the importance of spectrum, predicting that at some point the leading wireless carriers, namely AT&T and Verizon Wireless, were going to need new bands to expand their services. While there have been some technological tweaks to find more capacity than originally thought in the 4G LTE space, on the cellular front the march to so-called “5G” systems is well underway, with the predictable problem of marketing promises being far out ahead of usable reality.

While we’ll save an in-depth look at 5G for another point in time, it’s useful to notice that all the large wireless carriers are already making 5G announcements, of 5G trials, of 5G local networks and other assorted claims of leadership. While nobody really knows exactly what 5G is for sure, what is known is that to get to the faster/better claims being staked there is going to be new spectrum in play for 5G services, and some of it may work better than others for use inside venues.

What’s clearly not known at all is how 5G services will arrive for sports stadiums, as in whether or not they will fit inside the current DAS model. Will carriers be able to share 5G systems like they do now on neutral-host DAS deployments? Right now that’s doubtful given that carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile are already talking about 5G deployments on much different spectrum spaces — and if the proposed merger between the two carriers becomes reality, how does that further change the 5G planning landscape? Perhaps the only thing we can be sure of is a lot of mixed messages in the near future about the best way to move forward from a cellular perspective.

Will carriers take over unlicensed bands?

On the Wi-Fi side of things, a smart friend of ours once claimed that when it came to Wi-Fi network deployments, “real estate is the new spectrum” since building owners could pretty much stake a free claim to the unlicensed spectrum spaces within their walls.

But now, there may be some storm clouds brewing as carriers seek to implement systems that let them use some of the 5 GHz unlicensed channels for LTE networks, an idea with possible consequences for current venue networks.

Aruba’s Chuck Lukaszewski wrote about this issue for Mobile Sports Report last summer, and some of his points bear repeating and remembering, especially these two: One, most Wi-Fi networks in large stadiums are already “spectrum constrained,” meaning that they need all the channels in the unlicensed band to ensure good service across an entire venue; Two, by introducing a system where cellular providers would use a chunk of that spectrum for LTE networks, the effects are as yet unknown — and venue operators would most likely be at the mercy of carriers to both acknowledge and comply with any possible conflicts that might arise.

As we here at Mobile Sports Report are cynics of the first order, our first question in this matter is about whether or not there are any clauses in those contracts venues have signed with carriers that will allow the cellular providers to “share” spectrum in the Wi-Fi space as well. While Verizon, AT&T and other service providers have paid quite a few dollars to support many stadium systems, it’s worth it to wonder if some of those deals may not look so good going forward if they include the legal ability for carriers to poach spectrum currently used only by Wi-Fi.

CBRS to the rescue?

Another technology/spectrum space we’ll be looking at more closely in the near future is the Citizens Broadband Radio Service, which sits at the 3.5 GHz space in the electromagnetic spectrum roster. Though new FCC rules on the use of this spectrum (currently used primarily by the U.S. Navy) haven’t yet been solidified, it seems from all signals that eventually what will emerge is a kind of tiered licensing type of situation with licenses that cover large, small or even local geographic areas, which may allow for building owners to set up private networks that work sort of like Wi-Fi does now.

One attractive option being touted is “private” LTE networks, where venue or building owners could build their own DAS-like LTE network infrastructure for CBRS spectrum, then rent out space to carriers or run their own networks like Wi-Fi but with LTE technology instead.

What’s unknown is exactly how the licensing scheme will shake out and whether or not big carriers will be able to dominate the space; here it’s helpful to remember that big wireless carriers typically spend millions in lobbying fees to influence decisions in places like the FCC, and venue owners spend… nothing. Verizon recently announced it expects to have CBRS-ready devices working before the end of this calendar year, so it’s likely that CBRS systems may be more of an immediate concern (or opportunity) for venues than 5G. And the marketing folks behind CBRS are on full speed ahead hype mode, even crafting a marketing name called “OnGo” as an easier-to-sell label than the geeky “CBRS.” So buyer beware.

Already, Mobile Sports Report has heard chatter from folks who are helping design networks for greenfield operations that the choices simply aren’t as clear as they were recently, when you could pretty much count on Wi-Fi and DAS to meet whatever wireless needs there were. While that duo may still be able to get the job done for the near future, looking farther ahead the direction is much less clear and the sailing no doubt much less smooth. Here at MSR, we’ll do our best to help batten the hatches and give as much clear guidance as we can. At the very least, it should be an interesting trip.

Vegas Golden Knights get Wi-Fi boost at T-Mobile Arena

Vegas Golden Knights fans congregate during pregame in the outdoor “Park” next to T-Mobile Arena. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

In hockey, it’s called being caught shorthanded. Outnumbered on a 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 rush, or down a player due to a penalty, it’s never fun to compete without an appropriate amount of resources.

In Las Vegas this winter the NHL’s newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights, found themselves somewhat shorthanded on the wireless side of things when the Wi-Fi network in their castle — a building also known as T-Mobile Arena — couldn’t quite keep up with the demand generated by the Knights’ smashing debut.

But by deploying a classic Vegas strategy — going “all in” with a quick network upgrade that added nearly 200 access points — The Knights, T-Mobile Arena and connectivity partner Cox Business brought the Wi-Fi in line with the team’s first-place level of play, ensuring that fans will be able to share whatever happens in Vegas during the upcoming playoff run on a high-density network that reaches from the rink to the roof, as well as outside the arena.

Needing the feedback of regular fans

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT issue for Spring 2018, which includes a look at Wi-Fi performance during the Final Four, a recap of wireless performance at Super Bowl 52, a profile of new venue construction in Los Angeles and more! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY right now from our site!

Visiting team fans also have made T-Mobile Arena a popular NHL spot this season.

While the building itself has been open now for nearly 2 years, its original accelerated construction time frame and the uncertainty of the NHL bid meant that network deployments inside T-Mobile Arena were always going to have some wait and see attached.

“The original network design was kind of a best guess,” said Vikrant Bodalia, director of technology operations for MGM Resorts International (which co-owns T-Mobile Arena in a joint venture with the Anschutz Entertainment Group), during an interview and tour of the stadium the day after MSR attended a Knights game during the regular season.

When the arena opened there were approximately 520-plus Cisco Wi-Fi APs throughout the building, but according to Bodalia there were only about 66 of those in the lower seating bowl. While there were some that were mounted under seats, those APs were few in number and mainly in the lowest rows, where Bodalia said performance was weakened by interference from fans’ bodies.

In between the time when T-Mobile Arena opened its doors in April of 2016 and the start of the current NHL season, every event was different from the next one, meaning that new fans filled the arena each time. The high percentage of “transient” crowds, Bodalia said, made it hard to get good feedback on how the Wi-Fi network was performing.

Cisco Wi-Fi APs in custom enclosures designed by Cox Business ring the overhangs above the main seating bowl.

Once the Golden Knights started playing, however, fan feedback was “very vocal and very good,” Bodalia said. Though it was always expected that there would be some rush in popularity for an expansion team, the surge in season ticket sales (team officials said attendance is more than 75 percent season ticket holders) is probably at the high end of expectations.

Add in to that the appeal for visiting teams’ fans to spend time in Vegas, along with the completely unexpected division-leading on-ice performance, and you have a sort of perfect storm that pushed bandwidth demands early on. For Bodalia and his IT team it was game on, with a quick research project into the best way to add more capacity, followed by an all-hours plan to get the job done.

Going under seat, without core drilling

One technique that has worked well in other stadiums — putting Wi-Fi APs into handrail enclosures — didn’t work at T-Mobile Arena mainly because the height of the railings was too low. A few test deployments didn’t produce the desired performance, Bodalia said, so that path was rejected.

Instead, the team of Cox Business, T-Mobile Arena and Bodalia’s MGM squad settled on a plan to deploy under-seat Wi-Fi APs, a deployment with a split degree of difficulty since about half the lower-bowl seats are on a retractable metal infrastructure to allow for customizable seating arrangements.

New under-seat Wi-Fi APs in the lower bowl

For the APs placed under concrete-mounted seats, Bodalia’s team devised a method of deployment that did not require them to drill through the concrete for each placement. Instead, the APs used low-profile conduit that stretched beneath the seats to the walkways, where connections could be consolidated. The T-Mobile Arena crew even tucked some of the wiring underneath rubber gaskets between concrete partitions, a method also used at Notre Dame Stadium to get cabling to APs without going through the concrete.

For the APs located on movable stands, Bodalia said the key was to find a method that didn’t disrupt the sometimes daily need to move the seats back and forth to comply with the venue’s busy schedule of concerts and events other than Knights games. What they ended up with was a design that included multiple switch-mounting sites on the walls underneath the backs of the stands, and then flexible “caterpillar” tracks to host cables, which would curl up or stretch out as needed, without having to detatch cables while physically moving the stands. At project’s end, there are now 200-plus APs in the main lower seating bowl, more than triple the initial deployment.

Wi-Fi as solid as the team on the ice

So with the three-month project now finally complete — after a lot of midnight shifts to get the work done between games and other events — how does the T-Mobile Arena Wi-Fi perform now? In a one-game visit by Mobile Sports Report during a Knights contest against the visiting Vancouver Canucks, we found Wi-Fi connectivity solid in every part of the venue, from the fan park outside to the rinkside seats to the upper reaches of the “castle.”

One of the many solid Wi-Fi speed tests we took in T-Mobile Arena.

What was surprising upon arriving at the venue was the relative “maturity” of the fan base — while some had predicted that visiting fans would overwhelm the locals this season, instead the opposite is true, with families, couples and packs of Knights fans flooding the zone outside T-Mobile. In a well-thought arrangement, the surrounding area between the New York, New York, the Monte Carlo and T-Mobile Arena is an already successful “fan zone” with open spaces for games and portable concession stands, and several watering holes filled to the brim an hour before game time.

After clicking a single box on a splash screen to accept terms for the Wi-Fi service, we got speed results of 42.4 Mbps on the download and 33.7 Mbps on the upload standing in the middle of the plaza outside the main gates as fans flowed by. Switching to cellular, we got a reading of 16.2 Mbps/9.25 Mbps at the same spot on the Verizon network. According to T-Mobile Arena, there is a neutral host DAS in and around the venue that supports all four of the top carriers.

Inside the arena, we went right down to the lower bowl to find and test some of the new under seat APs, and got a mark of 56.5 Mbps/54.7 Mbps in Row J of Section 17, in line with a face-off circle near one of the goal lines. Moving up we got a test of 61.5 Mbps/52.3 Mbps in a packed-house Bud Light Club on the main concourse and a 56.2 Mbps/50.3 Mbps mark in the Goose Island club, which serves the suite level on the third floor.

The world’s lonliest seat.

We couldn’t get inside either of the two “sky lounges” or the Hyde Park club on the arena’s top levels since they had private parties that night, but we did find the lonliest seat in the arena — a single-seat row in section 209, at the highest regular-seating apex. Even with the challenging RF and tight spaces we still got a Wi-Fi reading of 21.8 Mbps/22.4 Mbps, showing that Bodalia’s team didn’t ignore the hard places.

It was fun to watch the Golden Knights’ Vegas-style pregame ceremony, which includes a fun “pulling the sword from the stone” routine to help fire up the fans. But the very vocal Vegas contingent — watch out for their clever coordinated shout during a certain part of the national anthem — doesn’t appear to need much help, as there is an infectious enthusiasm pervading the building, one that you might not expect from such a non-traditional “hockey town” as Las Vegas.

On one level, the team is a perfect antidote for the local pain caused by the mass shooting outside the Mandalay Bay last fall; many fans sported Knights jerseys with “Vegas Strong” written across the top of the back, and there is a very classy segment during the evening where a “Vegas Strong Hero” gets honored. The night we attended the “hero” was a nurse who stayed on duty that dark night helping to save many lives; she was honored with a standing ovation.

But now, following the Knights’ first-round sweep of the Los Angeles Kings in the playoffs, you can add Stanley Cup excitement to the mix, adding to the network pressure as fans will want to connect and share more. The good news is, thanks to the recent upgrades there is now a Wi-Fi network to match the team’s performance, no matter how far they advance.


Fans pack a nearby beer garden before a Knights game

A view of the Park from one of the arena’s outside lounge areas

Some premium loge seats have interactive TVs at T-Mobile Arena

One of the two sky lounges that extend over the main seating area

Knights games offer a savvy blend of hockey and Vegas showbiz expertise

Wi-Fi gear for new APs mounted on walls underneath the moveable stands

APs for under-seat deployments in moveable stands were mounted underneath the seating floor

A unique ‘caterpillar’ track keeps APs connected as stands are moved back and forth